Sheehan, Father Michael

1981, August 8

Date of Birth: 1901, March 2

September 1, 1981

Dear Sulpician confrere:

Close on the death of Father Carroll Noonan came the sudden death of Father Michael J. Sheehan, also from a heart attack. Both had been ordained in 1929, had made the Solitude together (1929-30), and had given 52 faithful years to St. Sulpice.

Michael John Sheehan was born on March 2, 1901, in San Francisco. He attended St. Peter’s Grade School and Sacred Heart College in San Francisco before entering St. Patrick’s Seminary for his philosophy and theology studies. He was ordained on June 15, 1929, in San Francisco and made the Solitude in Catonsville. Father Sheehan was then appointed to the first faculty that opened St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. From 1930 until 1953 he taught Math, History and Religion in the High School there. From 1953 until 1959 he was on the faculty of St. Joseph’s in Hawaii, where he not only taught in the High School but was also Spiritual Director and Moderator of Athletics. His effectiveness as a teacher is best summed up in a St. Edward’s article from The Harvester in 1931:

“Weary, often from the drudgery of outlining and memorizing in college, many of Father Sheehan’s former students look back rather longingly to the old days in his classes when history and algebra were actually fun. The little plays which Father staged to dramatize some historical incident were always great events for his students. The bulletin boards on which he posted articles and pictures from his large collection of old newspapers aroused a lively interest in Washington’s history.”

When the High School department at St. Stephen’s was closed in 1970, Father Sheehan asked for a parochial assignment in Hawaii. For three years he was an associate pastor at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Honolulu. Then, in 1973, he went to St. Anthony’s Parish, Wailuku, Maui, where he remained until his death. Both in Honolulu and Maui he gave special attention to the sick in hospitals and nursing homes as well as to the elderly whom he often visited in their homes. These people will miss him very much. He was active literally until death. In June he had made the retreat with the priests of the diocese and then took his annual long vacation trip – this time to the South Seas. On his return he stopped at the Cathedral in Honolulu in order to have his annual physical examination. During that time he helped out in the work at the Cathedral. 

On Saturday, August 8, he celebrated an early morning Mass in the Cathedral, after which he visited some of the sick in the hospital. He then helped with the distribution of Communion at the noon Mass. That evening during dinner, he suffered a heart attack and died soon afterwards.

Father Sheehan’s quiet, gentle manner endeared him to all who came to know him. In the homily at his funeral, Bishop John Scanlan singled out the gentleness of Father Sheehan. “It is a fundamental theological principle that grace builds on nature. In the personality of Father Sheehan there was a natural gentleness which could receive the gentleness of Christ. This in turn manifested itself in the love and concern which reached out to all in need of sympathy and consolation. He was indeed a strengthening minister of the comfort of Christ.”

The appreciation of the people was visibly manifested at the time he celebrated his Golden Jubilee of ordination. After a concelebrated Mass at St. Anthony’s, there was a parish luau. Because of his concern for the elderly, all those couples in the parish who had been married fifty or more years were special guests of honor. At the luau, the people presented him with a round-trip ticket to Ireland, and the Marianists who administer the parish made him an honorary Marianist.

Bishop John J. Scanlan was the principal concelebrant of the funeral Mass in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. He was joined by Bishop Joseph Ferrario and about forty priests of the diocese. Among Sulpicians there were Ed Hogan, who represented the Provincial, Bob Turner, who came from Maui, Jim Fredericks, and Joseph Ky, our Vietnamese confrere who was in parish work in Hawaii.

Father Sheehan loved Hawaii and its people. It was, therefore, very fitting that, as his body was being carried from the Cathedral, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart choir sang the beautiful Hawaiian hymn “Hawaii Aloha.” May he eternally enjoy the aloha of the Lord.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

William J. Lee, S.S.

Provincial Secretary